As concern about coronavirus – the upper-respiratory infection that was first diagnosed in humans in Wuhan, China in late 2019, and has spread to the United States in recent days – grows worldwide, employers face a series of questions regarding the impact the virus will have on the workplace.
What Must Employers Do to Maintain a Safe Workplace?
U.S. employers may have concerns about compliance with workplace safety laws, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Under OSHA, workers have the right to working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm; to receive information and training about workplace hazards; and to exercise their rights without retaliation, among others. To that end, employers should continue to monitor the development of the coronavirus and analyze whether employees could be at actual risk of exposure.
Given that employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace for employees, employers should take some basic steps to help prevent the spread of disease and keep employees healthy:
Educating employees on the signs and symptoms of the coronavirus and the precautions that can be taken to minimize the risk of contracting the virus. At this time, the CDC believes symptoms appear within two to fourteen days after exposure, with some infected individuals showing little to no signs.
Providing hand sanitizer and hand washing stations, flu masks and facial tissues; encouraging employees to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; and cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched objects and surfaces.
Minimizing unnecessary meetings and visitors, and assessing the risks of exposure by identifying workers who may have recently traveled to, come in direct contact with, or are scheduled to go to Wuhan City, and the Hubei Province in China.
Implementing travel guidelines and procedures for approvals for travel to China.
Allowing sick employees to work from home or take leave as appropriate.
Some employee concerns will be reasonably based and consistent with guidance from the World Health Organization, CDC, and OSHA; other concerns may be driven by unfounded fear or speculation. Employers should continue to monitor the information and recommendations from the CDC, OSHA, the State Department, along with information from other federal, state, and local government agencies involved in the response.
Human resource professionals should prepare their organizations emergency plans now to ensure employees stay updated with crucial information and support, and to make sure business stays on track in the event we’re faced with a hurricane in the coming months.
Here’s a checklist organizations can use to prepare for a hurricane:
Share Disaster Plans & Emergency Resources Early
In anticipation of a natural disaster, HR leaders are often responsible for setting up communication plans and sharing information so that individual employees can prepare. Some recommended resources to share with those who may be impacted include:
National Hurricane Center’s Hurricane Preparedness Guidelines
Department of Homeland Security’s Emergency Kit and Supply Checklist
Local Evacuation Shelter Information & Maps (including resources for pets)
Test Your Ability to Contact Employees During/After a Disaster, and Vice Versa
It is critical to encourage employees to update their emergency contact information in the organization’s system to ensure you have up-to-date phone numbers and other pertinent details on hand. At Gulfshore Insurance, we activate a secondary disaster hotline for employees only that allows us to convey critical messages before, during, and after a storm. If employees have cellular service, then they are able to call in to receive timely updates on the agency’s status of operations. A phone tree is another widely used method for communicating with employees, particularly if your organization has more than a handful of employees.
Consider an Alternative When Cell Service Becomes Difficult
While cell phone towers may go down and access to the internet or SMS capabilities may be affected, texting may provide one of the best options for staying in touch. Many organizations utilize an SMS instant-messaging system that allows them to notify employees about operations and other pertinent details. As such, it is important to remind employees about the need for extended batteries and backups in order to effectively use this system.
Extend Deadlines, Alert Vendors, and Pre-Schedule Remote Check-Ins
Business, of course, goes on in the rest of the world and deadlines still loom. If you have any vendors outside the affected areas with employee deadlines you should start working with them to get an extension. Leadership and operations teams may want to pre-schedule call-in times and provide access to a conference line. The calls will allow you to effectively plan for business continuity and report on efforts to check in with your employees.
Consider an Advance Payroll
Many of the activities HR teams will need to address in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster will, in some instances, be things that have been prepared for ahead of time. As employees get back in touch, additional needs will be identified, but access to payroll funds and cash, as well as a sense of job security, are often uppermost in the minds of staff members. The first paycheck after a storm can be is critical for employees. Remember that if extreme power outages occur, not only will banks be closed, but ATMs will probably not work either–cash is king!
Be Flexible with Attendance and Time Off Policies
Employees who have been displaced from their homes or have evacuated entirely may be anxious about job continuity even as they’re struggling with basics like getting access to food, shelter, gas, and clothing. Part of the communication prior to the weather event will ideally have provided employees with clarity around items such as pay continuity, use of PTO, or flexibility in the company’s attendance policies. As employees return to work, whenever that may be, they’ll still be dealing with numerous aftereffects. Providing consideration for additional time-off without penalty will be important to employees who must keep appointments with insurance adjustors, rebuild their homes, or find new living arrangements; this time may be with or without pay as appropriate and in alignment with the Fair Labor Standards Act for employers in the U.S.
Hurricane Irma’s historic size and impact have been felt throughout the state. In addition to its impact on Floridians and their property, Hurricane Irma has the potential to impact your insurance after the fact. It is important to make sure you have the proper coverage in place before accepting projects outside your normal scope of operations; leasing and operating new equipment; or hiring new sub-contractors.
Below are several important post Hurricane Irma considerations to make.
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: Employees may be working extensive overtime hours or you may be hiring temporary sub-contractors.
Consider increasing payroll exposures now so your work comp audit is not negatively impacted at year end. Be sure to break out overtime pay so that at the time of the premium audit, the auditor will be able to discount it back to straight time. If the auditor cannot readily break out the overtime portion, it will be used in calculating the premium.
If hiring temporary workers or sub-contractors, make sure those workers have insurance and obtain proof of coverage. If hiring a subcontractor who does not have workers’ compensation coverage or it gets cancelled and one of the sub’s employees gets hurt, the responsibility for that injury can fall to you. This will ultimately impact your work comp experience mod and insurance premium. It’s the same situation when hiring an exemption holder. If that exemption expires and the subcontractor does not renew it in a timely fashion, that sub is no longer exempt. If he/she is hurt on the job, a claim can be filed against your company to cover the injury. To quickly look up the status of a sub-contractor’s work comp insurance, you can do so here: Search for Proof of Compliance
If undertaking or bidding projects outside of your normal scope of operations ensure you are aware of the appropriate class codes and rates for that work. Workers’ Compensation class codes are specific to the type of work being performed, and the rates can vary greatly. New or complimentary operations often require additional class codes being added to your WC policy. Make sure you’re aware if the new class code comes with a higher rate, so there will be no surprises at the year-end audit.
EQUIPMENT FLOATERS & INLAND MARINE: Leasing & operating temporary equipment could put you at risk.
If you lease temporary equipment, then you should verify the limits of your insurance coverage and possibly increase your coverage limits.
Unusual equipment often requires special coverage. In addition, renting equipment with an operator will require proof of insurance for the operator as well. Some equipment, such as cranes or lift trucks with large booms require special coverage and needs to be discussed with your Account Manager or Client Advisor to ensure it is properly covered for weight of load, tipping, etc.
In addition, if you are renting a crane with an operator, the rental company should be providing the coverage – for the equipment, employee (workers’ comp), and any associated general liability for operating the crane. Be sure to review the rental agreement with your Client Advisor or Account Manager to make sure that you are protected and that you obtain proof of coverage from the crane company.
MOLD: Do not end up with a mold-related lawsuit; have the proper coverage in place.
With hurricane related water damage, inevitably comes mold. If you become involved in any mold mitigation projects, make sure to have proper pollution and professional coverage in place. Without it, you will not be covered against claims from removal, disposal, or cleanup work.
GENERAL LIABILITY: Policy exclusions may impact the scope of work you are taking on.
For companies that have never worked on residential projects and might be taking on that type of work following Hurricane Irma, it is important to note that you may have policy exclusions that restrict your coverage. Sub-contractors may also have exclusions to their policies for residential, condo, or multi-family work, so it’s critical to verify there are none of these exclusions on your or your sub-contractors’ General Liability policy, prior to performing any of this work.
It is important to discuss these considerations with your trusted Client Advisor or Account Manager at Gulfshore Insurance to ensure you have the proper protection. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this information, please contact us. We are here to assist you and happy to answer any questions you have.